New Year’s Resolution: Show Some Integrity


Alex Ferguson and Dimitar Berbatov

Old Trafford; Sunday afternoon; FA Cup. King Kenny’s return to the fold in the Liverpool hotseat coincides with the game that the fans most want to win. Two incidents mar the game: Dimitar Berbatov’s blatant dive to win an early and decisive penalty, and Steven Gerrard’s reckless two-footed assault on Michael Carrick’s shins. To all TV viewers then, not a penalty and a definite red card. Surely Alex Ferguson and Dalglish had no option but to agree? No, wait, of course not. Silly me.

You see, the thing is that managers believe they must defend their players at all costs. “It was a penalty… he was definitely clipped… the momentum is enough to bring the player down”, said Ferguson of his centre forward, who appeared to take two perfectly balanced steps beyond Daniel Agger’s dainty challenge before collapsing to the floor (or perhaps Ferguson would have us believe there was a sudden gust of wind). read on

Athletic Bilbao – More Than a Club


The Bilbao Fans

Athletic Bilbao are the last team in modern football that can honestly claim to be a team of local players. Resisting the sweeping globalisation in football, this proud Basque club has maintained it’s policy of only selecting players born and bred in the Basque country. This policy has elicited much debate, gaining many admirers as well as critics, and makes Athletic a uniquely fascinating club.

Athletic are one of the oldest and most successful clubs in Spain. Formed in 1928 (only  Recreativo de Huelva are older), the club has since won eight national championships and twenty-three king’s cups. Only two teams have bigger trophy cabinets: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Along with these two, Athletic are the only club in Spain never to be relegated. However, with the rapid globalisation of football since the Bosman ruling, Los Leones have been somewhat left behind due to their la cantera philosophy. The last league title came in 1984, and since then the club has been mired in mediocrity. However, to judge this club in pure footballing terms is to miss the point. -read on>

Eto’o Anguish


Eto'o Anguish by Paul Gleeson

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Dani Pacheco, Liverpool’s Cesc Fabregas


Daniel Pacheco, Spain and Liverpool's young talent

It is the summer of 2007. A product of Barcelona’s famed youth academy has just been snapped up by a leading Premier League side. Hopes are high for the youngster. Comparisons are made with Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas. Have the Catalans let another young gem slip through their fingers? Liverpool hope that the answer is yes, as they unveil their new starlet. His name is Daniel Pacheco. -read on>

Does Foster have the ‘Hart’ to become England’s numer 1?


Ben Foster England's number 1?

We’ve heard a lot about English goalkeeping problems over the last year, and rightly so, but in my opinion, after several years in the goalkeeping wilderness, we now possess two who are potentially world class.  Joe Hart has been doing good things for the last two seasons, but it’s the man Manchester United kept hidden away who I wish to discuss: Ben Foster. -read on>

Nuri Şahin: Dortmund’s New Star


Dotmund's new star Sahin with Jurgen Klopp

Borussia Dortmund are back. After years in the Bundesliga wilderness since the heady days of the late 1990′s, Dortmund are back on top again. They have taken the Bundesliga by storm, sitting ten points clear at the winter break having played some of the most breathtaking football in Europe.It is a team full of technically excellent, intelligent young players who have produced some wonderful attacking play with excellent movement and high tempo passing. At the heart of it all is a young Turkish midfielder, Nuri Şahin. To many this will not be a new name, as he has long been touted as one of the most prodigiously talented youngsters in the world. -read on>

The Championship turned upside down


Preston recently sacked struggling manager, Darren Ferguson

Going into the New Year, many Championship clubs will be looking at their prospects of getting a play-off, or automatic promotion place by the seasons end. But while everyone is discussing how close the league is, and how any number of teams are in contention for these places, we often overlook the state of affairs at the other end of the table; more often than not it mirrors the close situation at the top.

The clubs at the foot of the table will be recovering from their festive hangovers knowing that action has to be taken soon, to stifle their demise. While other teams in the bottom half of the Championship will realize that just a short run of bad form could see them pulled down into a relegation battle. That’s why January is such an important month for these teams. The transfer window is open, so new recruits can be brought in, and there is still enough time left in the season for a new manager to make an impact, and save a club from relegation. -read on>

Chelsea’s Dying Breed


Chelsea's young and old; Kakuta and Terry, but where's the rest of the young talent?

For a moment, it was the revival. Finally shaken back into life after a long winter hibernation, and led by their inspirational captain, the Blues were back. When John Terry seemingly secured a comeback reminiscent of the Mourinho epoch against Aston Villa on Sunday, from 2-1 down to 3-2 up in a matter of moments, the natural order had been restored.

But, just as natural selection dictates the survival of the fittest, this Chelsea side were again proved to be a dying breed. Another defining blow to the weakening dynasty was, fittingly, landed by one of the Premier League’s new kids on the block. Ciaran Clark stole in with a late header, securing a deserved point for a tenacious Aston Villa side.

After a flying start saw them open a five point lead at the top of the table after ten games, this looked like being another successful season. Since 2004, a team held together by a stable foundation of Lampard, Terry, Drogba, Cech has won ten trophies, including three league titles.

But a less endearing number ten now hangs over a once great side. That’s the number of points it has secured from the last ten league games, the worst run since 1999. A run that suggests this is not just a blip. This is the beginning of the end for a team with an average age of over 28.5. And my, how quickly the end seems to be coming. -read on>

S.S. Lazio: Where Eagles Dare


The Eagle of Stadio Olympio

An eagle is released and soars around the Stadio Olympico, swooping through the clear Roman sky, roared on by thousands of fans before majestically flying back to its trainers arms. It is a bizarre and controversial scene, but then again Lazio are no strangers to controversy. The stir the eagle has created amongst animal rights groups is nothing compared to past controversies, a long list including Nazi salutes by players, racist banners and support for Serbian war criminals. Many of these were the acts of a minority group of extreme right-wing ultras but it nevertheless tarnishes the club’s image.

While mired in controversy the club is also steeped in history, being the first club established in Rome in 1900 (they often brag to rivals Roma that Lazio brought football to Rome). In those 110 years however they have only won two Scudetto’s, the most recent of which was in 2000. The current side are looking to build on that and honour this clubs fiery and dramatic past. -read on>

Afellay: A Hleb or a Cruyff?


 

Ibrahim Afellay signs for Barca

In mid-November, PSV and Barcelona confirmed the transfer of Ibrahim Afellay for around €3 million. The first question evoked by this transfer is, do Barca need another attacking-midfielder? This is the team that beat their closest rivals 5 nothing in El Classico two weeks later. What could this team gain in buying another midfielder?

They bought Javier Mascherano in the summer and he has barely featured so far. When one considers he cost around €20 million, that is a lot to spend on a player who is not a regular. Will the same be the case for Afellay, although he cost very little and he will surely start as a sub and will primarily be used as a sub for most of the season. -read on>

Have West Brom finally thrown away the yo-yo?


Before I begin can I just say a happy new year to all you football lovers. Without you guys reading our ramblings we wouldn’t be able to function…so thankyou!

As I sit here watching West Brom against Man Utd, still slightly inebriated from the New Year excursions, I wonder if West Brom have finally found the right style of football to stay in the country’s top divison? -read on>

Alex Ferguson The Great; Arsene Wenger The Very Good


Wenger and Ferguson demonstrating their love hate relationship

Arsene Wenger will never be a great manager. To be a ‘great’ you must become a legend of the game, and sit alongside such masters as Shankly and Busby and, of course, the top division’s long-reigning king, Alex Ferguson.

One characteristic seems to define great managers more than any other: pragmatism. The ability to be flexible in approach and adaptable to circumstances, and to make the right choices at the right time. Pragmatism is the quality that allows great managers to keep adapting, and keep wining. Arsene Wenger has many qualities, and his ability to spot talent and nurture young players is arguably the best in the game. But his downfall is that his particular ideology – of wanting to play the game and build a team in the ‘right’ manner – gets in the way of success. -read on>

It’s Lucky for Spurs


Tottenham won the FA cup in 1991

For many of us, a new year brings with it the promise of new beginnings. Fresh challenges are there to be overcome. Old habits are consigned to the receding memory of the year that has gone as we try to re-mould and re-shape our personalities and foibles in the hope that the coming year will make us better people in some capacity. It just so happens that this particular year ends in a ‘one’. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur are particularly well-versed in the significance of that number and over the coming months, commentators and pundits will take every available opportunity to remind us all that whenever the year ends in a one, ‘it’s lucky for Spurs’. Watch out everybody, I can
already hear the conversation taking place as Chas gives Dave a ring and says “Let’s get the band back together, for old time’s sake”.

Here’s a quick history lesson. Pay attention. By May, you’ll know this off by heart. During the twentieth century, years
ending in the number one garnered two League Championships, five FA Cups and one League Cup for the north London club. Not only that but they also produced moments in the club’s folklore which have become mythological in their re-telling over the years: the only non-league side ever to win the FA Cup in 1901, the first club in the twentieth century to achieve the League and Cup Double in 1961, Ricky Villa’s stupendously outrageous dribble in the 1981 Cup Final and in 1991, Gazza, simply Gazza. -read on>

Rafael Van Der Vaart: the Big Fish Little Pond Effect


 

Rafael Van der Vaart and the Big Fish Little Pond Effect - Image Courtesy of Gregory Rodriguez Bott

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Window of Opportunity


Arshavin signed for Arsenal in the January transfer window in 2009

Sky Sports News doesn’t like to admit it, but often the January Transfer Window turns out to be a bit of a damp squib. Whilst there have been some notable signings such as Arshavin, Vidic and the loan of Mascherano, ultimately it can be disappointingly quiet. Teams prefer stability, and many don’t wish to lose key players halfway through a season. This in turn creates an inflated market for potential buyers. However, the top half of the Premier League appears to have more pretenders and contenders than expected this season.

After a disrupted winter schedule there are definitely four, possibly five, teams still with ambitions to fight for the title. Below them though are still a number of teams, including a couple of surprise packages amongst some underachievers, which still feel that they can push into the European places. With the league so close and the outcomes of this season still so uncertain, could the hype be justified as managers look to spend to try and gain every possible advantage and climb the table? The radio, papers and internet sites are already full of rumours. So what can we expect? -read on>

Wally with the Brolly


Wolfsburg taunt McLaren, the Wally with the Brolly

It’s the time of year that underperforming managers dread…Christmas. By now you have had your chance to prove what you can do and if it’s not working out the vultures will start circling. In recent weeks we have seen Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce and Rafa Benitez (read Benitez joins the Italian Job…less) all lose their jobs and it looks like Steve McLaren’s time as manager of VFL Wolfsburg is hanging by a thread! -read on>

Qatar 2022: Winter wonderland or summer scorcher?


Sepp Blatter 'sheiks' hands with Qatar Qatar Football Association president Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmed al-Thani

In 2022 the world will be watching with baited breath as Qatar try to host the world’s biggest event, the World Cup.  The Qatar bid has been a controversial one ever since it was announced it would host the competition by FIFA president Sepp Blatter in November.

Out of the nine World Cup bids aiming to win either the 2018 or the 2022 event, only Qatar’s bid was deemed “high risk” by FIFA officials, who evaluated all the bids.  Despite their own representatives coming to this conclusion, the FIFA voters didn’t listen, and Qatar was awarded the competition, beating the USA in the 4th round by 14 votes to 8, and FIFA citing the reason of “trying to expand the game around the World” as to why they come to this decision. read on

FC Copenhagen: A European Adventure


FC Copenhagen starting line up at the Nou Camp

For many this season FC Copenhagen were an unknown quantity, most observers from outside of Denmark knew little about them or how they would fair. The majority of the football world having seen their Champions League group would have expected them to at best make it only to the Europa League. A group containing Barcelona, Rubin Kazan (Russian champions) and Panathinaikos (Greek champions), looked a hard one for Copenhagen to get out of. Copenhagen have no great stars unlike the other three teams, they have a fairly small transfer budget and have never previously got past the group-stages. -read on>

Benitez joins the Italian Job…less


Benitez waving goodbye

After just 6 months into his managerial role Rafael Benitez has been sacked by his club Inter Milan. This comes after days of speculation from the media regarding Benitez’s position.  On Monday morning many of the tabloid papers in Italy printed headlines saying that the Spaniard had been sacked, and it was only when Benitez spoke with a Spanish radio station saying, “I have not been fired” that the situation was cleared up, well sort of. It looks like this was only delaying the inevitable, with his departure expected to be officially announced within the next 48 hours.

It seems very strange to me that any manager should have to deny that his Club has sacked him. But that is exactly the circumstances Rafael Benitez found himself in on Monday concerning his position at Inter Milan. When Inter President Massimo Morrati was asked about Benitez’s future he refused to comment, which can’t have filled the manager with much confidence. I thought that it would have been fairly simple for Morrati to say he has, or he hasn’t fired Benitez. It is this ambiguous reaction from the President of Inter that clearly showed there was trouble at’ mill. -read on>

David Beckham – The Legacy


A teary eyed man stands in front of a 12,000 strong audience receiving a 2 minute standing ovation after receiving a lifetime achievement award for his sport. A man who is greatly admired and idolised, a man who has been at the top of his profession for some time. That man is David Beckham.

Some may be thinking how can a man of just 35 years be given a lifetime achievement award? The award previously has been given to the likes of Pele, Mohammed Ali and Sir Bobby Robson, people who have spent their whole lives in their chosen sport and taking that sport forward in many ways. How can a man of so few years in comparison be standing alongside them? Well I believe it is down to what people can see in the future. The foundations are already set but David, in the future, can change the face of football and sport as a whole. -read on>

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